The swath of Hurricane Irma was so wide that while the storm did not directly hit South Florida, where I live, its effects were devastating. Once again, South Florida made national and international news. Not for all the good we do, but for the bad. This time, it was really bad.

            Eight residents of a nursing home in Hollywood, Florida died after power went out due to the storm. The story of how a heroic nurse at the hospital across the street suspected a major problem and probably saved lives with her quick thinking is widespread.

            Now, the blame game begins.

            According to an article in the South Florida SunSentinel, the nursing home says it called Florida Power & Light (FPL) several times to report the outage. They also reported problems to Governor Scott’s office and left messages on the governor’s cell phone, a number he had given out at a press conference. The nursing home says it contacted several state “alphabet soup” agencies, such as FDOT, SERT and AHCA*. The governor’s office released a statement saying that the facility never said the conditions were dire and patients were at risk. Oh, and the governor’s office referred each call to AHCA and FDOH*. There are probably more agencies with fancy titles and acronyms that were contacted, including ESQs who are now representing the families of the victims.

            That’s the blame at the top. Let’s look at the trickle down effect.

            Many blame the nursing home owner, administration and staff, including the families of the victims. This is confirmed based on the legal actions that have already begun. The alphabet agencies also blame the facility, as does Governor Scott. Certainly, the public blames the facility too.

            The public also appears to blame the families of the victims and are asking, what did they think was going to happen when they chose to leave their octogenarian parents in a nursing home during a major storm when there is a power outage for several days?

            The families’ reasonable responses? We expected the trusted facility to care for our family members. And, don’t cast stones.

            Only one week after Hurricane Irma smashed through South Florida and cut power to almost two million homes and businesses (as I write this FPL states power has been restored to over 70% of their customers), when the tragedy at the Hollywood Hills Rehabilitation Center (HHRC) continues to make news, and the blame game begins, one thing must be made clear: we are all responsible.

            Our society is aging. That’s not news. Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, have reshaped America’s population as birth rates post-World War II spiked. Baby Boomers, myself included, are now between fifty-two and seventy-one years old. There are over forty-six million people in America who are sixty-five years or older. The average life span is seventy-nine years old, and more people are living to 100. There are more women than men living into their older years. Many live alone. Many have limited financial and familial support. Many cannot care for themselves, and suffer physical, emotional and mental illnesses. Alzheimer’s Disease is on the rise.

As our older community is living longer, we are charged with caring for them. More and more are living with their parents, or one parent, as I do. For those who do not have the honor of doing that, the elderly are living alone, or placed in facilities like HHRC. Many are forgotten, dismissed, and left in the care of strangers. Some receive excellent care. But to me, it all comes down to one thing: respect for our elderly.

            Who are our older people?

            They were born before 1947 and are labeled as follows:

    G.I. Generation: Born between approximately 1901 and 1924. Grew up during the Great Depression. Survivors of World War II.

    Silent Generation: Born from about 1925 to 1946. Includes those who experienced World War II. Most fought in the Korean War, and many in the Vietnam War.

    Our older generation experienced black outs and brown outs and bombing drills. They lived through bread lines, shortages of jobs, and desperate financial times during the Depression. They were alive when atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Years later, they thought the world was going to end during the Cuban Missile Crisis. They remember the Civil Rights Movement, the Cold War, gas lines and 9/11. They shaped America by moving out of cities and into suburbs. They are of all nationalities, religions and ethnicities. They are our parents, our aunts and uncles, our friends, our neighbors. They were our doctors and nurses, lawyers and mechanics, the local clerk at a favorite market, a waitress at a frequented restaurant, our bosses and co-workers. 

            They never thought they’d get older either and require the help of others to accomplish daily tasks such as eating, bathing, and walking. 

            I understand the need to punish and hold accountable those responsible for the deaths of the eight victims at HHRC. I agree with that need, too. Accountability is imperative to correct the wrongs so they never happen again. Punitive action is also necessary for the negligent care of the victims.

    The HHRC 8 will never be returned to their families. They didn’t choose to grow old in a way that required others to care for them. They certainly didn’t deserve to die in a pressure cooker environment, one charged with protecting them from harm.

            The blame game is just beginning but the reality is that we are all responsible. Until our elderly are treated with respect and not as burdens, horrific incidences like what happened to the HHRC 8 will continue.

            Treating the elderly with respect begins with each of us as individuals. Over time, by regarding the elderly with the reverence they deserve, the trickle up effect will begin. Once every elderly person is treated with respect, what happened at HHRC will never happen again and there will be no need for blame.

Joanne Lewis Blog

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*FDOT: Florida Department of Transportation: Emergency Management, which is an intricate part of SERT: State Emergency Response Team.

AHCA: Florida Agency for Health Care Administration

FDOH: Florida Department of Health









joanne lewis

When Joanne Lewis is not practicing law, she is writing. She pens murder mysteries, historical fiction and historical fantasy books and is the author of several award-winning novels. As an author, she hopes to entertain, to educate, and perhaps to enlighten. As an attorney, she is most proud of her work as an assistant state attorney and as a guardian ad litem representing the best interests of children.

Her books are available on Kindle, as paperbacks, and as audio books.

Her latest release is Bee King, a historical novel that is about the first person in the United States diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, and takes place from the start of the Civil War until 1910. Just like the people who inhabited Five Points in lower Manhattan during the 1800s and the turn of the century, Bee King traverses the pentagonal streets where abolitionists battled copperheads, immigrants clashed among social, religious and political strife, and doctors and psychologists strained to help patients. Told in Five Points (sections), Bee King is dramatized through conventional literary devices as well as through newspaper articles, a manifesto, and other non-traditional tools.

The Forbidden trilogy consists of the novels: Forbidden Room, Forbidden Night, and Forbidden Horses. Forbidden Room is her best-selling novel.

In Forbidden Room, the first book in the Forbidden trilogy, new attorney Michael Tucker has few clients, yearns to be like his famous grandmother and cannot afford to move out of his parents' home. Sara Goldstein is an heiress accused of killing her uncle. When Sara hires Michael, he gets the chance to defend an innocent person, a beautiful lover and notoriety like his grandmother. But is it more than he asked for? Is Sara innocent or is she a murderer?

Forbidden Night, the second book in the Forbidden trilogy, delves further into Michael and Sara’s complicated relationship, as well as into Soldier Boy’s psyche, into their family histories, and into the creation of the carousel horses. The question posed in Forbidden Room, the first book of the Forbidden trilogy—Is Sara innocent or is she a murderer—is answered.

Forbidden Horses, the final book in the Forbidden trilogy, travels to the eighteenth century and takes place in Austria to reveal the troubled history of the creation of the carousel horses.

Michelangelo & Me is a series of five novellas in the genre of historical fantasy.

In the first book of the series, Michelangelo & the Morgue, seventeen-year-old Michelangelo defies religious and political powers in order to capture a serial killer who is murdering the artists of Florence. In Sleeping Cupid, the second book, Michelangelo’s believed-to-be lost statue narrates his journey from fifteenth century Florence, Italy until the present day where he lives in an attic in a sleepy Florida town. Future books in the anthology include Space Between, School of the World and Michelangelo & Me.

The Lantern is a historical novel about a modern-day woman's search to find a girl from 15th century Florence, Italy who dared to enter the competition to build the lantern on top of Brunelleschi's dome. Across time and space, three lives collide as they battle abuse, disease, fear and prejudice in pursuit of their dreams. Along the way, they intersect with some of the most famous figures of the Renaissance including members of the Medici, Filippo Brunelleschi, Donatello and a young Michelangelo.

Wicked Good, a different kind of love story, begins in Bangor, Maine. Fifteen-year-old Rory is not defined by his diagnoses of Asperger's syndrome and Bipolar Disorder and lives life to the fullest. Archer, his adoptive mother, is Rory's biggest fan. Rory searches for his birth parents to find out why he is the way he is. He discovers his roots in Salem, Massachusetts where the Salem Witch Trials had occurred, and in Gloucester, Massachusetts where fishermen went down with the Andrea Gail during the Perfect Storm. He also learns his true roots are closest to his home in Bangor. As Rory discovers truths about himself, Archer learns about herself too.

Make Your Own Luck is the unforgettable and moving novel of Remy Summer Woods, a young attorney who refuses to believe thirteen-year-old Bonita Pickney killed her father, Patrick Pickney. Remy risks her relationship with her own father as well as her life to prove Bonita's innocence. Along with learning what happened the night Patrick was murdered, Remy discovers hard truths about her family and herself.

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